Clown Princes of the Cattails
BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN: 978-0-7267-8755-5)
Within minutes after starting down the trailhead, I knew for certain that the clown princes of the cattails were at it again.
During my decade in eastern Massachusetts, I was fortunate to have daily access to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord. With a ten-foot-wide, mile-long hiking path encircling a freshwater marsh, Great Meadows is a wonderful place to watch a variety of wild birds—everything from Canada geese and great blue herons to sora rails and least bitterns. Starting around of the middle of April every year, the unquestioned rock star of Great Meadows is always the marsh wren, at an average of only four inches in length.
A male Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) sings his spring territorial song from his perch atop a cattail in Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, Massachusetts.(Photo Copyright: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS
The life history of the marsh wren revolves around the common cattail. They use these plants for everything from nesting materials (including fronds for constructing nest walls and seeds for lining the insides of the nest cavities) to singing/hunting perches and escape cover. The males are master home-builders, each typically building ten or more cup-shaped nests each spring and then letting the female pick the one she likes best. The rest are left as dummy abodes to fool potential predators and keep them away from the family’s real residence and precious offspring.
A Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) plucks a mass of cattail seeds to use in lining his bevy of cup-shaped nests. (Photo Copyright: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
If you find an area where several male birds are singing and flitting about, you can witness how they establish their territories. Watch the male birds carefully as they fly to four cattail perches in succession, forming an approximate rectangular shape. When you see a bird fly to the same perches in the same exact order time after time, you will know you’re seeing his territorial boundaries. This will allow you to pick exact spots for prefocusing your camera’s telephoto lens, getting the best shots, and recording the marsh wren’s royal antics for long-term viewing pleasure.
Text excerpted from book: BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, written by Budd Titlow and published by Lyons Press (an imprint of Globe Pequot Press).
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.